Many churches, both rural and urban, are experiencing serious declines in congregation numbers to the point where many have been forced to close their doors.
Mt. Hope in Bruce County has, so far, gone against the grain. One of the oldest churches in the region, it still meets the needs of a rural agricultural community.
Saugeen Times wrote a history of the little church in 2009 and, below, we have re-printed the story along with the celebration of October 21st, 2018
October 19, 2009
“The church originally began in a log building in 1854, at the corner of Concession 2 and Sideroad 10, known as Briggs Corner in Bruce County. The intersection was actually named after the Briggs family that owned the property.
The existing church structure was built in the winter of 1871-72 across the road from the original log building and was built on the top of a knoll or mount. Therefore, the site acquired its name Mt. Hope, with the hope part coming from the surrounding families who saw hope in the future.
Once affiliated with churches in Dobbinton and Centenary, Mt. Hope became part of the charge of Southampton United Church in 1960.
Among two of the oldest families in the area, who have attended Mt. Hope Church since its inception, are the Monkmans and the Wolfes.
Harvey Monkman and Ross Wolfe are the patriarchs of two of the families that were part of the pioneers of Bruce County. Both men have lived their entire lives adjacent to ‘Brigg’s Corner’ and, today, their children and grandchildren are carrying on.
Monkman’s great-great grandparents are buried in the little cemetery behind the church, as are Wolfe’s parents and grandparents. Monkman’s great-aunt Mary Monkman was, in fact, the last person to buried in the cemetery. It was subsequently closed due to lack of space and government regulations.
Unique to Mt. Hope is that the cemetery is cared for by the church and the descendants of the ancestors that are buried there, unlike most cemeteries that are cared for by municipalities. A special cairn listing the names of all those buried in the cemetery was established by the fathers of both Monkman and Wolfe in 1967 and recently restored by the two sons.
Behind the church is one of the oldest Church sheds that once sheltered the horses used by parishioners. Today it is being used as a shelter for hay bundles.
In 1920, the floor was raised and a basement added under the church and a new lighting system was installed.
In 1986, the sanctuary was redecorated with tongue-and-groove pine boards on the west wall that are a unique decorative feature of the church.
“What people don’t realize,” says Monkman, “is that the rural church was the social hub of the community. Rural families didn’t run into town to go to a show, or to see a concert. They met once a week at church on Sunday or at church ‘socials’. It (church) was the centre of a community.
According to the two men, the church came close to closing its doors twice. The first time was in the 1960s when there were fewer young people and, therefore, fewer younger families. The second time, according to Harvey Monkman, was in 1985, when structural improvements were needed. “The congregation had to make a decision on whether or not the church would be closed or whether they would support the improvements,” says Monkman. “Obviously, they chose the latter.”
Walking the cemetery, the names of the two men’s ancestors are on almost tombstone … Monkman and Wolfe, with the other prominent name of Biggs.
Today, the two childhood friends still attend the little country church of Mt. Hope where they were baptised and agree that it won’t be due to a lack of dollars if the little rural church closes. “The only reason it would close,” says Monkman, “would be because of a total decline in the number of parishioners. Now, however, with younger people coming in, we don’t see that happening. Actually, the numbers are going up. Sunday school numbers which indicate the health of a church, are on the increase,” says Wolfe, “and that’s a good sign.”
Mt. Hope is still living up to its name … hope.”
On Sunday, October 21st (2018) members of several congregations from the surrounding communities of Dobbinton, Chesley, Tara, Paisley and Southampton came together to celebrate the 164th anniversary of Mt. Hope. Presiding over the service were Lynn Workman DM, Rev. Tim Reaburn and Rev. Heather Davies.
Ministers (L) Rev. Heather Davies, Rev. Tim Reaburn and Lynn Workman DM
The Southampton United Church Choir under the direction of Doug Squire and the Male Quartet of Jim McKnight, Gerry Hofstetter, Chuck Beaton and David Udall provided special music for the occasion.